By Sherrie Norris
Get ‘em while you can! That’s the word from Susan Preston Owen who knows a thing or two about ramps.
As one of the area’s leading authorities on anything that grows, Susan just happened to let folks know — via social media/High Country Food Hub — that she had harvested ramps yesterday, and almost immediately, they disappeared.
However, if you are reading this today, Wednesday, April 14, and will be in the area, she will have more available after 12 noon at the Food Hub on West King Street in Boone. But, she knows they will go quickly.
Overall, she doesn’t expect them to last much longer than another week, so get them while you can.
For those who don’t know, Susan tells us that ramps are a native wild leek that grows in the mountains —and this is the height of the season.
Just as I remember an annual Ramp Festival in Crossnore at Jim and Jennie’s Music Barn, Susan also remembers the festival up on White Top mountain, both of which attracted large crowds every year from miles around.
“Ramps have a very strong garlic flavor and a little goes a long way,” she says.
Unfortunately, she adds, they are becoming endangered from poachers and from incorrect harvesting.
“People used to pull the whole plant, bulb and all, to eat, but they won’t grow back. To harvest sustainably is to pick one leaf off of each plant, thereby leaving the remaining leaf to feed the bulb and multiply. Most people think the leaves taste better than the bulb.
Susan tells us there are a couple of varieties of ramps, both of which she has available:
Allium tricoccum var. tricoccum have wider leaves and red stems.
Allium tricoccum var. burdickii is also known as narrow-leaf or white ramps.
“Ramps are best used fresh and can be added to any savory dish for nice delicious onion-y flavor, Susan adds, “But SO much better than onions! And they are stronger too, so she advises us to use less than we think we might need, as the flavor goes a long way.
Susan says they can be used as toppings for soups, salads, in sandwiches, casseroles, etc.
Cutting Ramps into chiffonade strips works best, she describes, a slicing technique that can be used on any flat leafed vegetable or herb, such as spinach or basil. “Stack a few leaves on top of each other, roll tightly into a long cigar shape, and then cut thin slices perpendicular to the roll. Use your fingers to fluff and separate the thin ribbons.”
As Susan referenced above, ramps have been known to leave a powerful odor on the breath, so you might not want to get too close to anyone after you eat “a mess.”
Recipes are few and far between for ramps, but many years ago, I ran across a few that I’ve shared before and know they are tried and true. I think the potatoes help decrease the strong taste of the ramps, but I cannot vouch for it. I’ve never tried ramps, but I have been around those who have. Whew! It’s not something you will soon forget.
Our thanks to Susan for her incredible insight into this seasonal mountain delicacy and for sharing her own recipe for Ramp Butter, (see below.)
For those of you who may or may not know Susan Owen, she founded The Lily Patch Farm in 1985, naming it after the wild/native Turk’s Cap Lilies that flourish nearby. For 36 years, she has served the area well as an organic grower, specializing in native and heirloom varieties of plants, produce, and Pawpaw trees. Her website is not current, she says,, but she can be reached via email at [email protected]
The High Country Food Hub, located at 252 Poplar Grove Rd. Boone, is described as “an aggregator and online marketplace for local products,” and makes it possible for farmers to work together to meet the growing demand for local, sustainable food in the High Country area. Farmers benefit from the marketing, selling, packaging and delivering of their produce and prepared foods. Its online market brings fresh, nutritious, locally grown and produced food and artisan goods to you, the buyer, in a cost-effective manner on a weekly basis.
For more information, find it on Facebook or visit: https://www.highcountryfoodhub.org
Susan’s Ramp Butter
1lb. butter, softened to room temperature
4-5 Ramp leaves, cut into chiffonade ribbons
(Note: 4-5 leaves will flavor a pound of butter, depending on size of leaves.)
Unwrap 4 sticks of softened butter and add to a mixing bowl.
Stir in the ramp ribbons and stir well.
Place bowl in fridge to stiffen the butter a bit, then divide into 4 parts. Form into log shapes and wrap tightly in wax paper.
Put one in your fridge to use now and freeze the rest for later.
And of course you can make less than a whole pound if you wish, just use less leaves.
Note: Ramp butter can be frozen for later, if desired, and used as you would regular butter. The best way? “Spread it onto hot biscuits or let pats of butter melt on top of a hot steak, or on a baked potato, or anytime you want a boost to a savory food. The possibilities are endless!”
Cheesy Grits and Grilled Ramps
Salt to taste
1 ¼ cup quick-cooking grits
12 oz. white cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup half-and-half
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1⁄4 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 cloves garlic, mashed to a paste with 1 tsp. salt
Black pepper, to taste
About a pound ramps, trimmed
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Bring 4 cups salted water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan over high heat. Mix in grits; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened and tender, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in cheese, half-and-half, butter, cayenne, garlic paste, and season with salt and pepper. Pour grits onto a serving platter.
Heat a cast iron grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill ramps in 2 batches until leaves are wilted and ramps are tender and slightly charred, about 5 minutes.
Place over grits, drizzle with olive oil; season with salt and pepper.
Fried Potatoes and Ramps
5 medium potatoes, diced
5 medium bunches of ramps, diced into 1-inch pieces
Butter or your preference of cooking oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a skillet, fry potatoes in butter or oil on medium heat for about ten minutes, then add the ramps and cook until tender, about 20 minutes longer, or until tender. Season as desired.
Eggs and Ramps Breakfast Casserole
1 lb. breakfast sausage
1½ – 2 cups thinly sliced cleaned fresh ramps
2 cups milk
1 tsp. dry mustard
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
4 slices bread
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
Grease baking dish and set aside. Heat oven to 350.
Cook sausage in large pan over medium heat until brown; break up the sausage and drain most of the grease, leaving just a little in the pan. Add sliced ramps to the pan, cooking gently until they soften. Set aside.
In large bowl, combine eggs, milk, mustard, salt and pepper, stirring to blend.
Tear bread into pieces and spread in bottom of the baking dish. Top with the sausage and layer with cheese.
Slowly pour the egg, milk, and ramps mixture evenly over the bread, sausage and cheese. Pat down gently and let stand for about 10 minutes. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until knife inserted into the center comes out clean.